Quality Doesn’t happen by accident
At Supreme we love quality coffee. It tastes great, and inspires us. It gives our customers, and their customers, excellent value for money. When we go about sourcing coffee to blend and sell to a café, or to someone at home, quality is first and foremost in our minds.
But quality coffee doesn’t just happen by accident, and it certainly doesn’t just land in our laps.
We have certain criteria we follow when sourcing our coffees. A great tasting coffee is, of course, a must, but we need to look a little beyond taste to be fully satisfied it’s a coffee we want. There is an incredible amount of year-round work that is needed to produce quality coffee in a sustainable way. When we buy coffee we’re looking to build long-term relationships with the producers so we need to know that their quality is sustainable, so we’ll be able to use their coffee year after year.
We find long-distance relationships tough. So we get on a plane and visit producers. It’s always nice to put faces to names but essentially we travel to origin to look at the whole production chain: from seedling, all the way through to the container ship leaving port.
On the ground we look for responsible stewardship of the land being used. Among many things, we look for criteria such as the protection of water sources, prevention of soil erosion, regular crop renovation and maintenance, responsible use of agrochemicals, and looking after endangered species. We don’t require producers carry Organic certification if we are satisfied with conditions on the ground, as it creates what we feel can be an unnecessary financial burden for the farm to maintain. We certainly might use Organic certified coffees if the cup qualities are agreeable but flavour, not a piece of paper, is the only thing we’re buying. We need to know the producers have a long-term outlook and want to keep their land producing as best it can for generations to come. It’s no coincidence that most of our coffee comes from family owned and operated farms that have passed through several generations.
We look closely at harvest and processing practices. A year’s work can be ruined very quickly if strict protocols around processing aren’t followed. We look to see how facilities are maintained and especially if constant improvement of processes is important to the growers. We look at the social services available to farm staff. It is a common thread amongst the producers we go back to year afteryear that they have a deep understanding of their fate being closely tied to that of their workers. Access to healthcare, education, adequate housing, daycare for children, and guaranteed personal freedoms are regular features of our producing partners’ workforces. Motivated employees, we have found, are essential to sustainable quality.
When we’ve satisfied ourselves that we’re looking at quality in and around the cup – from the ground up – then we talk about price. You get what you pay for in this game, and we don’t expect sustainable quality to come cheaply. If we aren’t prepared to pay the asking price there’s a few thousand roasting companies queuing behind us who will. The reality of today’s market, where climate change and burgeoning new economies are causing demand to outstrip supply, means that to produce the kind of coffee we want to sell the building of long-term relationships and paying sustainable prices is not just a feel-good exercise for us, it’s a commercial necessity.
This kind of sourcing model has come to be known as “relationship coffee” or something along those lines. We feel this beats third-party certifications hands down for telling us whether or not a coffee is ‘sustainable’. It feels more genuine to us and is the best way we know of securing long term supply of the coffee we want to use, coffee who’s market value is based solely on quality. So call it relationship coffee, direct trade, or whatever, this is how we source.